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Social Enterprise A Beautiful Mess founded by the Refugee Company speeds up integration by putting women to work.

In restaurant, coffeebar and makerspace A Beautiful Mess we support women with a refugee background to integrate by working to improve lives

Photo of Fleur Bakker
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Don't forget the women. Most of the organizations supporting newcomers to integrate serve more men. Somehow the women seem to disappear and are not able to participate in trainings. In our target group we work with women who havent been able to work before for various reasons. Women between 35 and 55. While participating in our re-start programme, which is a holistic approach, they become a strong network. Support to newcomers is scattered and our society is complex. Figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) show that just 11% of refugees who received a residence permit in 2014 were (self-)employed two and a half years later. Earlier research by the CBS also showed that 65% of status holders are still claiming benefits after fifteen years, with all the additional consequences. Clear differences related to country of origin were observed in the number of (self-)employed people, varying from 6% of Eritreans to 29% of Afghans. Tesseltje de Lange, researcher and lecturer in administrative and migration law at the UvA, working for the Gak Institute, studied the economic integration of refugees in The Netherlands and how obstacles to that process can be eliminated. Based on her research, de Lange advises starting the economic integration process at an early stage, even if procedures are still ongoing. The Social and Economic Council (SER) has also carried out research into the economic integration of status holders. According to them, an encouraging aspect is the various initiatives launched in recent years to help refugees find work. Important building blocks paving the way to success include supporting refugees as early as possible in participating in society, combining that approach with language learning, education, and work, and ensuring the continuity of this support. (Bron: (Bron:

Geography of focus (500 characters)

Our community consists of new arrivals still in procedure, refugees who just received a permit or people who have been her longer but still feel not integrated. 140,000 refugees in the Netherlands; an average of 15,000 arrive each year. What really stands out is that half of our participants in 2018 were Eritreans and one in five female. According to research, these two demographics in particular face increased difficulty integrating into the labour market and are more difficult to reach.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Our idea contributes to an inclusive society by: 1. Supporting women with a refugee background become economically independent and ensuring they feel welcome and at ease. 2. Inspiring society to develop a more open attitude towards women with a refugee background and to contribute to their efforts to find a meaningful life in The Netherlands. Work is the best way to integrate. Our idea offers a learn-workprogramme from 6 months to 3 years that helps participants to speed up integration.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Simply creating jobs is not enough; it is incredibly important that we give newcomers time to catch their breath and familiarize themselves with our complex society. It’s also crucial that we give women the space they need to process traumatic events and reconcile their old traditions and their old life with their new life here in The Netherlands. However, for women it is more difficult to start a new career. Often women stay in their own small family circle. That's why we support them to be on the move, learning the local language, getting to know the job market, and making new friends in your neighbourhood. That’s what we worked on in 2018 - creating safe spaces where these women can catch their breath and work together to start building a new life. With an enthusiastic team and our participants, volunteers, partners, and funds, we began designing and developing new solutions within an asylum system and benefit system that have never really worked as they should.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Working together, we can understand what women can do and what they really want. While we’re chopping onions, manufacturing a beautiful product or making coffee, we can look at potential next steps together. We have found out that women want to be part of a strong community. If we will be part of the Challenge, we want to use the invested knowledge, time and money, to set up more women groups. We have seen from our practice that women love to work in groups and develop their own community where a lot of their problems can be addressed and solved. All in all, we have developed a solid business case that satisfies municipal authorities. We are ready to scale up our programme and establish ourselves in other municipalities. The strong part of our idea is that our own target group of women who started three years ago have transformed into peer educators and will run the programme for new women who face the same difficulties.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Michel Yousef one of our shareholders and active as one of our program leaders in the refugee shelter came up with the idea to set up special women groups. Although he is a man, he knows the difficulties most women face in our group. During his work he has met many women struggling with their new lives. Fleur Bakker, founder and director worked for 20 years with different women groups in refugee shelters. It is an idea which is so simpel. One women feels vulnerable and alone, facing extra difficulties in their asylum procedure often taking care of big families. But the power of a group of women improvising in a shelter with almost nothing is amazing. Naz Kawan, one of the founders of the makerspace at A Beautiful Mess gets her inspiration from her strong mum. When she fled with small children from Irak to the Netherlands, she had to completely rebuild her live. We'd love our community of women to grow so we can support new women to take the lead in rebuilding their lives.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Pre-start Welcome We welcome residents of the asylum centre, and offer them the opportunity to start their integration into Dutch society by working as volunteers in the coffee bar. re-start Talent We offer participants professional guidance, training, and relevant work experience. There is also room for improving their Dutch language skills, personal development, and well-being. Our coaches then provide guidance in searching for suitable employment. Once a participant has secured a job, we provide aftercare. Network We connect newcomers with locals during motivational training sessions, meetings, joint dinners, and excursions. We help you build a strong network and offer assistance with practical matters such as Dutch language skills, healthcare, administration, and education. Resilience We offer preventive care, with a focus on low-threshold psychosocial support, and if needed guide participants towards suitable assistance. We also do mindfulness exercises.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

We form a strong community with lovely, creative and super powerful people. We serve excellent food, our coffee is popular and our products very well manufactured. Therefore we have received free publicity, won an award and a lot of fans keep visiting us. Because we do what we love and our community is always there for us, we will survive. We are so grateful to our committed sponsors, our funds, our allumni, our board and staff.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

Current partners: de Waag AMFI Patta Rochdale Hacked By_ Signify Taal plus talent The Changery Tony’s Chocolonely Merijn Tol Foam AM 216 Accountants Urgenda Eigenwijks Combiwel Sesamacademie Dokters van de Wereld Arq, Mindspring Equator BKB Makers Unite COA De Wolven Bocca Coffee Roasters Sligro Vd Kroft Orange Rental Dorstlust Vermaat Albron Sodexo Grapedistrict Signify EFE Food Municipalities: Amsterdam Weesp Wormerland Waterland Diemen Amstelveen Haarlemmermeer Employers: Sungevity Eden Hotel Starbucks De Kas Dakdokters Hanos Moco Museum Sligro Moxy Hotel Thuiszorg C-Bèta Huize Frankendael / Merkelbach Suitsupply Newwerktherater UWV Hotel QO Vermaat Google Nederland Koffie Salon Adam Toren Future Partners: IDEO Tommy Hilfigure De Postcodeloterij Municipality of Utrecht and Arnhem

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Systems design: Solutions that target changing larger system

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Early Adoption: We have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have proof of user uptake (i.e. 16% to 49% of the target population or 1,000 to 50,000 users).

Group or Organization Name

Foundation Refugee Company and Social Enterprise A Beautiful Mess

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

We grew significantly as a team over the course of 2018, we are with 30 employees, 50% of them are with a refugee background. From our trainees, several people have gone on to take permanent positions in the kitchen, service, office and even as shareholders. The makerspace has been professionalised so traineeships could begin there in 2019. There was also more focus on our long-term strategy. A Beautiful Mess is a social enterprise and consists of a for-profit and a foundation Refugee Company with a board. In 2018 we changed our legal structure in order to follow the Dutch Code Social Enterprises. In our structure you can see where we stand for: impact first. The shareholders in A Beautiful Mess Restaurant BV are Michel Youssef (Syria/ NL), Jaap Stelwagen (NL) and Fleur Bakker (NL). The shareholders from A Beautiful Mess Makerspace BV are Naz Kawan (Irak/NL) and Fleur Bakker (NL).

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a For-Profit Startup or Startup Social Enterprise

Organization Headquarters: Country

Amsterdam, the Netherlands, H.J. Wenckebachweg 48, 1096AN Amsterdam

Organization Headquarters: City / State


In preparation for expert feedback: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in these categories? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea. (600 characters)

1. Is there any research available on women with a refugee background finding work in Europe which can back up the urgency of our proposal? 2. We want to set up a 'semco style' approach where we build small teams who are self-organised. We do think a central administration and organizational support is for this vulnerable group of women. Is there an example of a social enterprise with an organizational model? 3. The language component is key. We want women to significantly improve their Dutch language. We are looking for innovative methodology where people learn the language while working.

Did you use the resources offered during the Improve Phase (mentorship, expert feedback, community research)? (2000 characters)

Thank you IDEO. Your brilliant process has made our idea stronger. We have talked to so many people. Michel spend hours in the shelters interviewing. Mentor feedback: 1. Take a look at the law/ policy for migrant women, 2. Support women in several sectors, not only in hospitality 3. Offer the programme in more municipalities Users: 1. Work together as we are a village Bahija, Syria: I used to live in a village in Syria where the women depend on their husbands financially. I have no workexperience on the labour market. I want to be productive and use my skills. l feel comfortable when I do the work with other friends, women from a similar culture. It reminds me of the system I used to be part of in my village. 2. Peersupport reduces stress and anxiety Fatima, Iran: Stress and anxiety are a part of every day, I decided to make myself busy, this is the only way to relieve my stress. For me, the work at ABM helps me feel more grounded, more integrated, more independent, if we are not strong, we will lose ourselves. 3. Give women time to adjust in the host country Jina, Syria I am doing my best to understand the Dutch culture. Being involved in the Dutch labour market needs huge effort. A few months ago, I decided to leave ABM and be a chef in one of the restaurants from their network. I thought I have the capacity and the confidence to do it. Unfortunately, it was not easy for me, not easy for a Syrian woman who has never worked before. It was frustrating to work in a different culture. I was not ready. Now I am at home again. Expert 1. Urgency: 2. Innovative methods of teaching women Dutch, its fundamental to ensure the language learning encapsulated two things: 1.It "gamifies" the language learning process and and 2.It is designed to integrate with daily cultural rituals of the women 3. One really interesting model the expert recommends to explore is the cooperative model.

In what ways would potential BridgeBuilder funds allow you to pursue your idea that other funding opportunities have not? (1000 characters)

Refugee Company continues to grow. Our strategy is to set up more restaurants, catering services and coffeebars in order to make our model more self sustainable. Sustainable funding sources are still difficult to find. We depend on local gouvernement resources, subsidies and donors. An initial meeting with councillor Groot Wassink took place in 2018 to discuss collaboration and funding options, but after a year of lobbying Amsterdam didnt move at all. This year a proposition was developed with which to approach surrounding municipalities with success. Arnhem will start supporting us and Utrecht is thinking of supporting. Refugee Company gained more knowledge regarding Social Impact Bonds. Discussions have been held with investors and municipalities with an interest in this kind of construction. BridgeBuilder will give our idea a kickstart and will build trust so others will maybe follow to support us. It gives us the opportunity to show the potential of the idea.

What aspects or proportion of the overall idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (1000 characters)

A beautiful museum offered us to run their beautiful cafe/ restaurant in the middle of the city centre in an historic building in Amsterdam. If we get the money we want to set up a women cooperation who will run this beautiful place together. We will spend the money on installing a professional kitchen, 5 salaries of 24 hour a week paid jobs for the women in our team, a projectleader. We offer the 5 entrepreneurs the Re-start programme including psycho-social support, language development, coaching on the job and training. We want to hire Avance (independent impact measure agency) to measure the results, so after one year we can get funding from the municipality, they need 'independent research'. Kitchen: €50.000 Women staff first year €150.000 Re-start programme €50.000 Impact measuring €15.000 PR/ marketing €15.000 Mini-van €15.000 rent building €60.000 project leader €40.000 In total we will need €395.000 for the first year. All revenue we will save for year 2.

What are the key steps or activities for your idea for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (1000 characters)

2020 jan-march 1. The location is there, prototype of the business will be a copy of our current operation in restaurant A Beautiful Mess 2. Develop business case on location 3. Get the team ready, 5 women entrepreneurs: select, train and co-create the business idea together with them 4. find partners, suppliers, PR agency 5. Install kitchen, permits etc 6. Develop menu, design packaging, PR campaign, story telling, website etc 7. re-start programme starts running 8. start 0 measurement with Avance Opening april, may, june 8. test 9. evaluate/ measure 10. improve 11. re-start programme Juli-august 12. summerprogramme, open more days, hire more staff sept-dec 13. fundraising 2021-2023 14. measure, evaluate 15. expand the team/ business 16. re-start programme

What will community-level impact look like over the timeframe of your idea? How will you determine whether or not you have achieved that impact? And what outstanding questions do you still have? (1000 characters)

IMPACT: By 2021, we aim to develop a programme which we can run in four large cities in the Netherlands where 400 women and their families can benefit from. MEASUREMENT: We will measure not only the number of women and visitors reached, but also measure the qualitative impact on their families and lives. QUESTION: How do we adjust our model to be able to scale it? How do we develop an enterprise in 5 years which can run without funds?

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (1000 characters)

Michel Youssef, Syria/ Netherlands, he will be one of the projectleaders setting up the programme, he has build a large community of women in the shelters (although he is a man, quit impressive how they all really trust him) Fleur Bakker, Netherlands, she will be guiding the process from an entrepreneurial point of view, develops the business case and manages the PR/ marketing part Katia Verreault, creative therapist and Mindspring trainer will support the group in their well being Carmel Azami, re-start coach will guide the women through our holistic re-start programme Saskia Knol, HR professional will be there in the first three months to recruit and prepare the women who we select to be part of the programme Sandrijn Dekkers, operational director RC/ ABM will support in technical and productional way, to prepare the location, legally, financially, permits etc. Mitra, Soana, Bahija, Fatima, Jina are the women we think of to include as the first group of entrepreneur

Lastly, how did you apply new learnings to your idea? (1000 characters)

1. If you were connected to an expert during the Improve Phase, how has the idea evolved or responded? The expert was actually for us really important, she strengthened our idea and gave us valuable links for research we could use to improve our idea. We think we can use her support in the future. This whole process was so much better than many other fundproposals we are participating in. It is very useful. 2. If you were connected to a mentor with lived experience during the Improve Phase, how has the idea evolved or responded? The mentor hour was to short. But our mentor also posed some interesting questions and in the process it was very important for us. 3. Did you reach out to other community members or stakeholders to help you learn or test your idea? We reached out to our women community and had heartfelt discussions with them. Doing the interviews helped us understanding which part of our work is important to our users. Thank you IDEO once again for the beautiful process.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Souad Nanaa

Hello Fleur,
Awesome project, you are focusing on the integration of the women in Netherland, and specifically you target the age group 35-55, from my experience this age group has difficulty in finding job here in France.
I have one question: is it a paid job? You mention that the duration of your program from 6months to 3 years, during this period are the women getting paid?

Best of the luck

Souad Nanaa

Photo of Fleur Bakker

Dear Souad,
We start our trajectory with a voluntary fee on top of the welfare allowance they receive. The municapilty gives us permission. Once we think people are ready we place them in a paid job. At the moment we are hiring women ourselves who are not completely ready for the job market, but perfectly fine to be on our payrole. The paid job is for 7 months and after these 7 months we try to match them to a job outside our company. If you have any additional questions please dont hesitate to ask them. Love, Fleur

Photo of Souad Nanaa

Good evening Fleur,
Thank you for your reply, and wish the best of luck in this final stage.

Photo of Patricia

Hi Fleur Bakker ! We are so happy to see all the great work that Refugee Company is doing with women refugees. If Alice Bosley and I can be of any help, please send us a WhatsApp! We ran a pilot of a Female Founders Fellowship program in Erbil and Sulaimani this year to support growth-stage women entrepreneurs because we saw from our work that they were facing additional obstacles to starting their businesses (which I am sure you see every day in the Netherlands, too).

Hope to see you again soon!

Photo of Fleur Bakker

Dear PAtricia and Alice,

I would love to share ideas and knowledge, lets plan a skype meeting in the next few weeks. Lovely to hear from you through this platform. Lots of love and good luck with your work, Fleur

Photo of Itika Gupta

Hi Fleur Bakker this is a very inspiring commendable project that you and your team are working on.
My name is Itika, and I'm here to share some Expert Feedback and suggestions on the points you're seeking support with.
- To show the urgency of your idea, this is a really compelling article calling out the disparities in employing migrant/refugee women around Europe :
- To should the added empathy that is urgently needed to change the government's approach towards economic independence of refugee women, here's another article :
- I'm pretty sure you guys must have seen this but here is another handbook for Dutch employers looking for refugees. This report has some very compelling stats you can use to defend your idea :
- Regarding innovative methods of teaching women Dutch, its fundamental to to ensure the language learning encapsulated two things: 1.It "gamifies" the language learning process and 2.It is designed to integrate with daily cultural rituals of those women. I've worked on one such design idea with Eritean women in Israel, and it sparked a lot of interest. We can discuss more about the idea, but there is surely a lot of innovation opportunity there.
- Regarding self organised women enterprise models, there are a bunch of very successful examples of women doing it in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and India. These are not refugee women, but they are abandoned women making a life for themselves. One really interesting and effective model you can explore is the "cooperative model". Here is a case study of one such booming business in India that really helped women groups become decentralised entrepreneurs:
- An interesting organisational model of refugee women groups succeeding as entrepreneurs is the model of business incubators customised for deeper needs of refugees. Here's a really nice article you can get some ideas from :

I'm sharing all these references just to trigger ideas and help you defend an already great idea and submission you have. Feel free to reach out to me incase you have any more questions or need any more support. I'd be happy to help.
And good luck with the submission :)

Photo of Fleur Bakker

Thank you so much for your expert feedback. Itika, this is so valuable to us. We will keep you posted about our process. Lots of warm greetings from our team, and keep up the good work,


Photo of Bremley Lyngdoh

Can you please confirm if you have made contact with your mentor and if you have agreed on a date to have your one hour check in call to discuss about your idea?

Can you please confirm if you have thought of 3 questions for your idea to post on your comments section that you would need an expert to answer by 20th September?

Photo of Fleur Bakker

Dear Bremley, We have our mentor meeting in one hour. I am sorry I didn't see your message earlier. I have to get used to using the platform. The expert question...I think we'd like to have a marketing/ sales expert. But I will get back to you as soon as we spoke to our mentor.

Warm greetings, Fleur

Photo of Isaac Jumba

Dear Fleur Bakker 

Great to see that you connected with your mentor. Were you able to settle on the questions to ask to the experts for feedback? If yes, add them on your idea submission form.
To do this, click "Edit Contribution" at the top of your idea post, then scroll down to see and answer the first added question. This way, it is easier for experts to see the questions and provide feedback.

Photo of Fleur Bakker

Thank you Isaac, I will try to do this today. Can you let me know how i add Michel Youssef and Naz Kawan to my team. We havent been able to connect them to my team. They are already in a profile.

Photo of Isaac Jumba

Dear Fleur Bakker ,

Both Michel and Naz have to have first created an account on the platform. If they have done so, under your submission, click on Edit contribution and at the very bottom, you can add members to your team by their usernames (start of with "@" and type their name. Let us know how this goes

Photo of Johannes Cornelis van Nieuwkerk

Hi Fleur,

Nice to see you here again.... success!

Kind Regards from Budapest

Hans van Nieuwkerk

Photo of Fleur Bakker

Hi hans,

yes, great to see you, hope you are good,

warm greetings